Friday, May 24, 2013

UPB FAQ 0.1

I hope to update this FAQ soon (2014). I consider this version deprecated. I wouldn't say anything is out and out wrong, but incomplete and maybe misleading. I hope the update will be much better.

I want to explain UPB to you. Unfortunately, I don't claim to understand it myself. Here are some questions and attempts at answers.

1 What is UPB?

UPB stands for universally preferred behavior. Molyneux often uses it to debunk moral claims that somehow fail the criteria. If moral claims are illogical, contradicted by evidence, or fail to apply to all persons at all times in all places, they fail the UPB test. Molyneux frames UPB as a generalization of argument and science to connect to the powerful truth-seeking aspects of those approaches, using this connection to deflect attacks against UPB.

If you remember nothing else about UPB, remember this "bottom line". If someone tries to moralize you into doing something or accepting something on the basis of a rule which does not apply to everyone, that person is a hypocrite and can be ignored. That is UPB in a sentence.

UPB is a general approach, with moral propositions only one application. If you want to understand the world you should use the scientific method. If you want to persuade someone, you must debate. 

Persons who describe themselves as competent moral agents may not actually prefer that which is "universally preferred", but in violating UPB they contradict their claim of moral agency.

1.1 can you explain some of the UPB jargon?
Maybe in 1.0.

2 Why should anyone believe UPB is true?

Molyneux uses something like proof by contradiction to argue for UPB. Here is my sketch of his argument:

1) UPB is a generalization of scientific method and fair argument.
2) Any argument that applies to UPB and disproves it, can also be applied to the process of fair argument and also disproves the ability of argument to establish truth. It also removes the foundation for all scientific claims.
3) Since the argument that disproved UPB also depends on the process of argumentation, and argumentation is a special case of UPB, the foundation for that argument also disappears, and it is at best uncertain.
4) We can summarize this as "any argument against UPB implies that argument in general can never establish the truth of any statement."
5) But we have just established the truth of at least one statement by use of argument, that is, we have established that "argument can never establish the truth of any statement." So, if we are sure that "argument can never establish the truth of any statement" then we cannot be sure that "argument can never establish the truth of any statement."
6) Since we have generated a contradiction, logic says we must have assumed something that was false. So we have 3 options: we can reject the use of logic, evidence, and argument and fall back to grunting or killing those who make statements we disagree with, we can reject the argument "disproving" UPB, or we can reject the assumption that argument is a subset of UPB.

Since the UPB critic used argument to support the anti-UPB proposal, that person can only proceed by denying that whatever argument applies to UPB also applies to the process of argumentation itself. They must show that their argument hinges on a characteristic of UPB that argument does not share. (Note that the conflict does not depend on Molyneux's claim that UPB is more general than pure argument; Molyneux only needs to show that any attack on UPB also applies to pure argument, and his critic must show that the attack leaves pure argument untouched.) I do not recall seeing any criticism of UPB that actually took this approach.

I think Molyneux claims that using fair argument entails a claim of moral agency, so that arguments that deny moral agency generate a contradiction. If I disdain moral agency and defend some form of nihilism, moral agents can ignore my arguments because I am denying the ethics of argument, and therefore denying the efficacy of argument.

 3 How does Molyneux apply UPB

How does Molyneux apply UPB to evaluate statements about morality, and what statements does he reject, what statements does he accept?

I think he accepts the nonaggression principle and property rights, and rejects everything else. He has confusing analyses of murder, theft and rape, but we can derive prohibitions against these from the NAP, which seems simpler to me.

4 Footnotes, Digressions, Quibbles and Confusions

4.1 Sematics


Molyneux's use of the words (universal, universally, prefer, preferred, preferable, preference) confuses me. For instance, Molyneux sometimes uses "objective" in place of "universal": "The challenge arises when we try to define some preferences as objective. The proposition before us is thus: can some preferences be objective, i.e. universal?" (page 33) The concepts of objectivity and universality seem to me to be closely related, but not identical or interchangeable.

In other places, he indicates that a universal rule must apply to all persons (except children and the mentally incompetent) at all times and places, in all circumstances. Rules may apply to persons in three different ways: the observer evaluating the argument, the subject who obeys or disobeys a moral rule, and the object whose rights are violated or not when the subject obeys the rule or not. Does universality require all (or any) of these? Or should we restrict universality to process of evaluating rules? David Gordon's critique mentioned a version of this question.

4.2 Evidence

Molyneux's ideas about what evidence may disprove a moral rule also confuse me. If a moral rule violates our common intuitions, that is sometimes seen by Molyneux as evidence against the rule, but not in all cases. For instance, I think he would reject the moral rule "kill anyone you please when and if you please" on the basis that this violates our moral intuitions. But if we claim to have intuitions about egalitarian distribution of wealth, he would either deny the intuition, or deny its relevance as evidence for or against some moral rule. Our intuitions may contradict each other. How do we choose among them?

4.3 Universality?

On page 73, Molyneux states, "If murder is morally good, then clearly refraining from murder is immoral." Why does Molyneux's conception of universality require these two "opposites" to be the only candidates? Why not "Thou shalt kill only when justified by the following excuses (etc.)?" Presumably, we cannot universalize this statement in Molyneux's sense of the word, but I don't understand what causes the problem. Since Molyneux in other places embraces the use of defensive force in principle, he in fact accepts some form of this rule with the self-defense excuse.

4.4 Consequentialism?

Molyneux argues against consequentialism, yet he connects "is" to "ought" by a sort of consequentialism. Truth seeking in certain domains demands scientific method, in others it demands ethical argument. In the realm of moral rules, truth seeking demands UPB.

4.5 Positive Obligations

Molyneux implicitly argues against the possibility of any moral rule that places a positive obligation upon persons (things we must do, as opposed to things we must not do). If morality obligates us to give to charity, by Molyneux's approach, we must be giving to charity at all times. There is no cut-off where our contributions satisfy the rule and we can take a rest. I sympathize with this view, but I think Molyneux should have made it clear and argued for it more explicitly. Molyneux's point makes some sense if summarized as "any cut-off point for positive obligations is arbitrary." But Molyneux did not clarify why any positive obligation on any person must apply to all persons at all times, despite their circumstances. Like I said, I am on his side, but I don't think he made a good case. (Best I can do is: "rules apply to all people at all times at all places. If you are obligated to do X, that means you are prohibited from not doing X. So you must do X at all times.")

4.6 Classes of Persons

UPB separates persons into 3 groups, those who choose moral agency, those who are incapable of moral agency, and those who choose not to seek moral agency. Molyneux's logic requires that the third group, moral nihilists, in choosing moral nihilism, undercut their ability to make a valid argument. I wish Molyneux would argue this point clearly and explicitly.

4.7 Property

Molyneux favors property in general, but does not endorse a specific set of rules. Within the category of property there is a wide range of possible rules. Do they all satisfy UPB? Can UPB help us choose among them?

4.8 Reference


Nima's article helped me to improve my understanding of UPB. My imperfect grasp of the topic should not be blamed on that person, however.



10 comments:

Mr. C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. C said...

"1) UPB is a generalization of scientific method and fair argument.
2) Any argument that applies to UPB and disproves it, can also be applied to the process of fair argument and also disproves the ability of argument to establish truth. It also removes the foundation for all scientific claims."

Since UPB is supposedly a generalization of science and good argument, that means it has other parts to it than those two.

If the flaw that disproves it is in one of those other parts of it, then obviously it's not arguing against science or good argument, nor do science or good argument save UPB.

In particular, the argument quoted above is not part of the scientific method (since the scientific method doesn't talk about the validity of UPB as a whole) and not part of good argument (since no good arguments imply that the validity of a part of something proves the validity of the whole of it).

Since the argument intended to prove UPB's validity is flawed without science or good argument being flawed, the argument doesn't save itself.

UPB thus is not proven by this low-quality argument, nor is anything else ever proven by a similar argument.

Thomas said...

"Since UPB is supposedly a generalization of science and good argument, that means it has other parts to it than those two."

That is the reverse of my understanding of what Molyneux says about UPB, and the reverse of what I intended in saying that UPB is a generalization. For him, UPB is an abstract category that contains logic etc. as specific examples. Logic is a UPB as Socrates is a man. Prove something about UPB and logic must share the implication. Use logic to disprove UPB and you disprove logic, hence you proved nothing. This is Stef's favorite move.

The real question is, how do we verify that "logic is a UPB"? I am not clear on that. It must be more than universality and timelessness. What characteristics do science, logic, fair argument, etc. have in common that mark them as UPB? What characteristic does astrology have that excludes it from the UPB category?

Does Mr. C's comment refer UPB itself, or to my explanation of it? I am just trying to understand UPB, I don't know enough to argue in favor of it or against it. If anyone understands UPB and disagrees with my explanation, I hope they will point out my mistakes so I can fix them. If someone wants to argue against UPB, they should probably call in to freedomain radio's Sunday show and set Stef straight.

Mr. C said...

"That is the reverse of my understanding of what Molyneux says about UPB, and the reverse of what I intended in saying that UPB is a generalization. For him, UPB is an abstract category that contains logic etc. as specific examples. Logic is a UPB as Socrates is a man."

OK, since it's a category that includes things in addition to science and good argument, a flaw might affect those additional elements. This plain fact contradicts that argument.

"The real question is, how do we verify that 'logic is a UPB'? I am not clear on that. It must be more than universality and timelessness. What characteristics do science, logic, fair argument, etc. have in common that mark them as UPB? What characteristic does astrology have that excludes it from the UPB category?"

You'll never get any clear answers on any of this, because UPB is a primarily a confusion rather than an idea.

"If someone wants to argue against UPB, they should probably call in to freedomain radio's Sunday show and set Stef straight."

You're making the unwarranted assumption that that's in any way productive.

Thomas said...

"OK, since it's a category that includes things in addition to science and good argument, a flaw might affect those additional elements. This plain fact contradicts that argument."

I am guessing that Molyneux would claim that the definition of the UPB category excludes the flawed element.

I think for your move to work, Molyneux would need to tell us what criteria are used for determining what is or isn't UPB, and then we would need to find a specific example of a member of the UPB category that has a flaw.

Kevin Beal said...

Mr C actually called into the Sunday Show to talk about UPB with Stef, bringing up his criticisms. It was one of the Sunday Shows that made it to YouTube, but I'm having trouble finding it.

It's weird though since I remember debating (in favor of) UPB on the boards and Mr C backed me up a bunch. He made some excellent points and made some great arguments by analogy.

I would never have guessed he would end up portraying UPB like an immature and stupid theory that only retarded cult members could believe.

Whether or not UPB is proven, you are not likely to convince him. His participation with the FDRliberated crowd has soured him to it. It's a real shame.

Mr. C said...

Kevin, your insinuations are incorrect and based on your lack of knowledge about me, which means, like humans do, you'll tend to fill in the blanks, especially with whatever stereotypes your group has for its opponents.

I wasn't bringing up criticisms in that call.

I've been trained a bit in logic. I passed with As a few formal logic and mathematical proofs courses without difficulty. I've programmed quite a bit. I like thinking in that way.

I'd long had a goal of helping to put UPB on a firmer ground in that sense, and eventually I gathered together the motivation to do that.

When I tried, I ran into a lot of difficulties. I couldn't figure out how to organize it better, because the definitions change a lot and terms are used in confused ways. A lot of people who try to understand it in more detail have the same sort of problems, as you can see by the content above the comments.

So I called in to gain some clarification on several points, and Stefan apparently didn't understand my first question, so I kept reasking it in different ways, none of which helped.

When I attempted to get assistance on the forums, he closed the thread, saying that resolving ethics via writing could never work. That's an interesting position for someone who wrote a book on it.

That's what started to give me the impression that Stefan's claims that those who don't get it don't get it due to child abuse might be wrong.

It's kind of hard to stay very invested in FDR when its main thesis, that all significant problems in society are the result of child abuse, loses its reputation because it seems somewhat overbroad.

Thomas said...

Mr. C said, "It's kind of hard to stay very invested in FDR when its main thesis, that all significant problems in society are the result of child abuse, loses its reputation because it seems somewhat overbroad."

It is rare that I agree with every point made by every author that I read on the web. I do not agree with everything Stef says. But for me, that is okay, almost inevitable. Sometimes I am wrong and it takes me a while to snap out of it. Sometimes I am right, and being exposed to different ideas keeps me sharp. I am still finding value at FDR, and have not given up on understanding UPB. I have to admit I was surprised that people were so reluctant to discuss UPB, and that threads seem to get diverted so easily. UPB is mentioned frequently in the forum, but rarely applied in a way that provides a clear example, maybe never explained or summarized. (I qualified with that "maybe" because I was not able to read every thread where UPB was mentioned, that would be a massive amount of reading.)

Mr. C said...

The confusion comes from Stefan's confusion. Here's an example.

Take a look at Appendix D of the "UPB" book, where the other person is quite rightly annoyed at Stefan.

Stefan frequently portrays himself as valuing logic and corrections. He portrays himself as holding that value independent of other people's demands.

You'd probably rationally expect him to welcome corrections.

You'd probably think it odd if you took him at his word, offered him some corrections, and were presented with the repeated insinuation that you're irrationally expecting him to value logic and corrections.

You'll note that the other person in the interaction never actually does what Stefan insinuates. The person is repeatedly clear that Stefan is not objectively required to do anything. The person merely repeatedly offers what Stefan claimed to value, which is perfectly logically consistent with their belief that people, like Stefan, can have personal preferences for logic.

The condescending rhetorical question about why Stefan should let someone else's preferences override his preferences directly contradicts his repeated claims that his preferences already match the other person's. It's completely bizarre to presume that the other person is trying to override your preferences in order to change them to what they already supposedly are.

And this behavior is what Stefan claims that literally every debate he's had about UPB comes down to.

Take a few moments to let that sink in. Then realize that the people at FDR haven't brought that problem with the appendix up with him. Most of them haven't even noticed it.

Mr. C said...

"I am still finding value at FDR, and have not given up on understanding UPB."

I wanted to make it clear that I'm not saying you can't get any value from Stefan or that you should leave if you don't want to.

I just want to point out that Stefan presumes he has much stronger abilities in clear logical thinking than he actually has.

He also uses stereotypes about psychology to come to hasty conclusions about people's motives. While that sometimes gives an accurate conclusion, it frequently fails.

And then he then trains others in these ways of thinking. Not everyone who listens to him goes for that, but some do.